Changing Entrenched Health Beliefs Is Not Impossible


April 18, 2024 – Seems it’s not a Sisyphean process – or at the very least not inconceivable, like attempting to roll a big boulder up a steep hill over and over. Some folks with deep-rooted beliefs on a variety of well being matters – from COVID vaccination to psychological well being stigma to meals together with genetically modified organisms – could possibly be persuaded to rethink their positions. 

However the way you ship the message is as essential as what you’re saying, new proof suggests. 

A conventional public well being message like “Get vaccinated. It’s good on your well being and the well being of others” sometimes doesn’t persuade massive numbers to alter their minds instantly. It could possibly be one purpose that the CDC experiences that only 23% of Americans obtained the latest COVID booster shot. 

In distinction, having somebody who used to withstand COVID vaccination clarify why, in their very own phrases – and clarify what occurred to make them change their minds – made some folks rethink their attitudes in a research. 

These weren’t folks “on the fence” about getting the vaccine. Years into the COVID pandemic, unvaccinated folks “doubtless have some fairly entrenched views,” stated lead researcher Jeff Conlin, PhD, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communications on the College of Kansas in Lawrence. “And we nonetheless noticed success.”

These “two-sided conversion messages” assist as a result of folks first relate to the particular person with the resistant perspective, Conlin stated. Then they’re extra open to listening to why the particular person made the change and obtained vaccinated. Authenticity additionally counts – it really works finest when folks telling the story have lived expertise. 

Conlin and colleagues in contrast 384 unvaccinated adults given both a conversion message or a one-sided story from somebody who all the time meant to get vaccinated. The strongest discount in hesitancy was among the many most vaccine-resistant folks given the conversion tales. The full study was printed on-line in December 2023 within the journal Well being Communication.

And it is not nearly embracing of latest sort of pondering, Conlin famous. These messages additionally assist folks “understand that their prior beliefs had been perhaps misinformed or misguided.”

Conversion messages additionally may affect different broadly held well being beliefs. “We’re simply beginning to check out testing conversion messages with psychological well being stigma,” Conlin stated. The purpose is to check the technique utilizing a really particular story about somebody who was towards counseling, therapy, and assist providers for nervousness or despair, for instance, and why they later modified their thoughts.

One other research checked out how conversion messages affect attitudes about one other controversial matter – genetically modified crops. In distinction to the research by Conlin and colleagues, these researchers discovered it was the energy of the message that mattered essentially the most. They concluded that stronger messages may result in more durable changes in attitudes. The research was printed in April 2019 within the Public Understanding of Science journal. 

Give Individuals a Alternative?

Simply giving folks a alternative on the model of COVID vaccine may additionally enhance uptake, based on research findings from College of Oregon researchers printed this month within the Journal of Utilized Analysis in Reminiscence and Cognition

“Individuals take pleasure in selecting,” stated Ellen Peters, PhD, research creator and director of the Heart for Science Communication Analysis on the College of Oregon Faculty of Journalism and Communication in Portland. “Individuals really feel empowered in the event that they’re given a alternative and, because of this, like the choice they selected greater than in the event that they didn’t have the prospect to make the choice themselves.”

In a number of research, folks had been extra keen to get vaccinated for COVID in the event that they had been allowed to decide on between Pfizer and Moderna, for instance, than once they had been assigned to one in all them, stated Peters, who can be a professor of psychology on the college. 

“COVID offered an uncommon state of affairs for vaccines. For the primary time, we had a number of vaccine manufacturers that folks may and did discuss,” she stated. “I additionally suppose the tactic may fit anytime a number of choices can be found [such as] Tylenol versus Advil, completely different screening choices for colorectal or different cancers, or alternative of surgical procedure versus medicine.” 

Conlin added, “What we need to do is [study] conversion messages in different ailments. That’s the purpose.” 

Perhaps Mix Methods?

When requested for her tackle Conlin’s research and two-sided messaging, Peters stated, ”It’s an incredible thought to check with vaccines, and I’m glad they did it.”

“It will be attention-grabbing to pair their strategy with ours,” Peters continued. The tactic she studied labored on individuals who had been vaccinated earlier than and had been contemplating a booster, in addition to on unvaccinated folks. 

“Would possibly combining their strategy and ours enhance additional the variety of folks aspiring to vaccinate, significantly amongst those that are vaccine-hesitant?” she requested.

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